“The moments when the food is inserted into the mouth and savoured are few compared with those spent happily reading cookbooks and trying to follow their instructions, or watching celebrity chefs on television […] or talking about food and swapping recipes.”
-Raymond Tallis, Hunger
I was walking to the beach. A truck stopped beside me on the road. It was The Painter and her friend The Gardener. Wanna. Come. Swimming. To. West. Bay? A perfect summer moment. A relief. I hopped in.
We swam, mostly. The water glimmered shades of dark blue, yellow, purple, its surface calm as a lake. After weeks of hot sun, the water was sensually temperate, almost the same temperature as our bodies.
Back on the wide, pale beach, leaning against bleached logs, we talked about salmon, our favourite ways of eating it. I always ask for the recipe. The Painter: butter, salt, pepper, fried in a pan. The Gardener said she uses what she calls “the NDP Barbecue recipe”: brine the salmon for fifteen minutes or so, wipe off the brine, slather it in melted butter, then grill. I told them how I make a marinade of mustard and maple syrup – but really, I said, Maple. Syrup. Is. All. You. Need.
We got excited as we talked about salmon. Oh. My. Said The Painter. I. Want. To. Go. Home. Right. Now. And. Make. Some.
I always ask people for their recipes. It is a way to understand what they hunger for.
In the past week, visitors have provided happy reprieve to writerly solitude. As I did last year, I asked them to bring only a recipe and ingredients for a single meal. The Anti-Poverty Activist was precise and elegant with her choice: a sweet potato and cheese quesadilla (recipe below). She has some experience with the hills on this island; her ingredient bag was extremely compact. The Swimmer took no such precautions, and exuberantly pulled all manner of delectable food item out of her two bulging knapsacks. The Blue-Eyed Stranger brought a found poem of random vegetables and fruit from her fridge.
I was cooked for, lovingly and creatively. Blue-Eyed Stranger conjured her breakfast magic, dancing between fridge, oven and stove, riffing and improvising. The Swimmer had marinated chicken breasts in jerk seasoning before even leaving town; to that she added chopped onions and red pepper, and yogurt. Not quite knowing what to expect, I made potato salad. It was an incongrouous and unexpectedly harmonious combination, not unlike our friendship, which has boiled over, dried up, and then simmered and seasoned, over the years.
Recipes help describe a person. The clarity of a dish with four ingredients; the colourful chaos of vegetables and meat in a casserole dish; the unabashed joy of eggs, sausages and potatoes, extravagantly spiced.
Getting to know someone, or knowing them better, requires, at the very least, a recipe and a meal.
SWEET POTATO QUESADILLAS
* 1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions (1 medium to large onion)
* 2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
* 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
* 4 cups grated peeled sweet potatoes (about 1 1/2 largish potatoes
* 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
* 1 tsp. chili powder
* 2 tsp. ground cumin
* generous pinch of cayenne
* salt and ground pepper to taste
* 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
8 tortillas (8 to 10″)
Saute the onions and garlic in oil until onions are translucent. Add
grated sweet potatoes, oregano, chili powder, cumin, and cayenne and
cook, covered for about 10 mins, stirring frequently to prevent
sticking. When the sweet potato is tender, add salt and pepper to
taste and remove from heat. Spread 1/8 of filling and 2 Tbsp. of
cheese on each tortilla. Cook filled tortillas.
Serve immediately, topped with salsa and sour cream.
From “Moosewood Cooks at Home”
ps: they’re also good cold the next day, if there are any left (especially on picnics)